Carter's script includes his "signature spoken jazz riffs and verbal gymnastics, channeled to create a rhyme-driven, high-energy" adaptation, according to the announcement by the Tony Award-honored Chicago company that has Carter in its Playwrights Ensemble. The troupe now uses the marketing line, "Victory Gardens Theater, an American Center for Plays.
Bulosan's short story concerns a lovestruck migrant worker in 1930s California. The staging will be directed and designed by Broadway's Loy Arcenas in his Chicago directing debut. The play is the final show in the VGT 2003-04 season. Opening is June 7.
"The Romance of Magno Rubio tells the hard luck tale of Magno, a simple Filipino immigrant farm laborer in 1930s California who won't let hardship or heartbreak mar his hopeful spirit," according to VGT notes "When our hero, only 4 feet 6 inches tall, meets Clarabelle through a lonelyhearts ad, his fellow workers try to temper his irrational, long-distance love affair. But Magno insists on paying one of his co-workers to pen long, heartfelt love letters to Clarabelle. After sending letter after letter, and larger and larger gifts, Magno finally proposes, and Clarabelle accepts — if he'll wire a large sum of cash for her long trip from Arkansas. Through clever word play, rhymes, rhythms, even songs sung in Tagalog by Magno and his bunkhouse mates, Carter's adaptation of The Romance of Magno Rubio reveals the lives of migrant workers, their struggles and dreams, and their longings for home and a better life."
The Romance of Magno Rubio premiered off Broadway in fall 2002 at New York's Ma-Yi Theatre Company, an Asian American troupe, and received eight Obie citations for Carter, Arcenas, Ma-Yi artistic director Ralph B. Peña (who wrote the additional Filipino text), and Ma-Yi's five-man cast of Filipino-American actors. The Ma-Yi production subsequently traveled to the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila.
The Ma-Yi production went on to its West Coast premiere in November 2003 at California's Laguna Playhouse. For the Chicago run, Victory Gardens has assembled an all-local, all-Asian cast, including Rodney To as Magno, Joseph Anthony Foronda, Frederic Garcia, Narciso Lobo and Lynn Pham. Joining director-designer Arcenas on the production team are Todd Hensley (lights), Christine Pascual (costumes) and Andre Pluess (sound.) Ellyn Costello is production stage manager.
Originally from the Philippines, Loy Arcenas has designed Broadway sets for Love!...Valor!...Compassion!, Prelude To A Kiss, Once on This Island, High Society, The Night of the Iguana with Cherry Jones and William Petersen, and The Glass Menagerie with Julie Harris and Calista Flockhart.
Lonnie Carter, a charter member of the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble, is a native of Chicago's Northwest side. He has spent nearly 30 years writing plays "that jump racial and ethnic boundaries," according to VGT. "He is widely acclaimed for his hip-hop dialect and rhythms, syncopated poetry and prose, humor, pathos, and sharp social commentary."
Carter's works include The Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy, Gulliver, Lemuel and last season's VGT world premiere, Concerto Chicago.
Victory Gardens Theater is at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Call the Victory Gardens box office, (773) 871 3000, for tickets and information, or visit www.victorygardens.org.